Ray Lamontagne,Akayzia Live Review @ Hammersmith Apollo (Hammersmith) - 08 Feb 2007
Support act Akayzia Parker from London came onto the stage at 8PM prompt, featuring vocalist Akayzia Parker accompanied by guitarist. The style was acoustic/ nu-soul, and was quite pleasant, but you just got the impression that a rhythm section would have helped lift some of the numbers which started to blend after a while. By Akayzia's own admission, tonight the band were "naked" going out as just a duo. All-in-all, a job well done.
Ray and co came on stage at 9PM prompt (other venues would do well to take a leaf out of the Apollo's book when it comes to being prompt.... this was a new experience to me!), to applause.
Opening the show to a packed Apollo were the first four numbers from Till the Sun Turns Black - in the same order as the album. This was a great sequence, with the atmospheric Be Here Now setting a moody vibe for the rolling, guitar strumming Empty to build upon until we get to the more gospel-influenced slow-burner Barfly where Ray can finally let rip his trademark yearning, pleading, growling vocals in the bridge.
The fourth of the new songs, sees the band take a turn towards northern soul-sounding funk - and very nicely done too.
Predictably, the biggest cheer of the night came with the opening bars of Trouble. As Ray hit the chorus, he seemed to be in two minds about which version to do: the mellower album version, or the gospel Otis Redding-esque single version, with it's pleading "saved by a woman" line. Unfortunately (for me), it was the former toned-down version - still went down well, nonetheless. As if to compensate, when Hold you in My Arms kicks-off, the drummer goes into funk mode, and Ray really does his thing. Up until tonight, I didn't think Ray Lamontagne's music was dance-able, but when two girls got up and started dancing to this number - and no, I don't mean the left-foot-to-right-foot-and-back-again dance, I'm talking about a proper booty shaking, arm swaying dance - I was proved wrong.
Even with this rump-shaking, soul pleasing music going on, the crowd wanted more from Mr Lamontagne - seemingly wanting a few spoken words. Ray eventually relented to the multiple cries of; "say something, Ray" and "speak" with "I am speaking to you". When this failed to abate the pleas of the crowd, Ray showed them the hand in a "speak to the hand" manner. Later, just before starting a number he pointed out that one guy in the crowd could not be easily pleased, and commented that he wanted something more from him;
come up here, mister and you'll get it
Personally, I prefer my musicians to be good musicians. If they are great raconteurs/ comedians, fine, if not - so what?
The band were flawless all night, each providing a perfect accompaniment to Ray and each other. When they play Till the Sun Turns Black, you could hear a pin drop in this previously raucous audience. I first heard the track on the Ray Lamontagne myspace site a few weeks back and thought; "nice", tonight, though as the hairs on the back of my neck raised - I was lost for words. By this point in the gig, I was at the back of the auditorium and had a great view of the whole band. The drummer was simply amazing through this number, playing his kit with mallets to give the song the correct ambience, muting the cymbals, even down to playing the "ching" (Thai name - not sure of western name). At this point, I was simply in awe.
Eric Heywood - variously on pedal steel and rhythm guitar did an amazing job of filling-in for missing string sections and keyboards - which appeared on the original arrangements of a number of the songs. The weight felt from Jennifer Condos' bass was excellent as was overall sound quality of the night - testament to the sound engineers' excellent work.
The set ended with a hard-hitting song about drug use Jolene - to rapturous applause. Applause which did not subside until they came back again - which was a fair while later.
The encore consists of four songs, which saw each band member gradually drop-out starting with the drummer (Jay Bellerose), then rhythm guitarist/ pedal steel (Eric Heywood). When down to two, it gave bass player Jennifer Condos a chance to stretch out and throw in a few smooth licks. In fact, at that point her bass sound was so mellow, I would have sworn she was playing a fretless, but from my viewpoint, couldn't be sure.
With Jennifer now gone, Ray is now the only guy on stage, pinpointed in a bright spotlight as he starts to strap a harmonica support around his neck, and I start thinking; "hmm.... Acoustic guitar, harmonica.. all that's missing is a big kick drum strapped to his back and we have a one-man-band street busker". Stupid thought, as when the gently strumming guitar is joined by the harmonica - haltingly for the first few notes, but then beautifully playing the melody of All the Wild Horses I can hear the ladies sigh, and the girl standing next to me says; "aaah".
The crowd rise to give Ray a well-deserved standing ovation and he addresses the crowd thanking them for their support over the years.
Excellent finish to an excellent night. It's hard to imagine I'll see a better gig this year.
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